Amazing camping trip in the White DesertPublished on April 20, 2015
While in Cairo, we organised a 3 night trip to the White Desert with Ragab Safari. We caught a local bus from Cairo which took about 5 hours. Some tours include a private car trip, but to save money we opted to take the bus (compared to some of the buses and train we’ve caught over the years, it was fine).
The bus arrived in Bahariya and we were met by our driver/guide Ragab. He collected our backpack and led us to an ancient Landcruiser and in we clambered. He drove us through the town, through little back streets, we passed lots of motor bikes, kids, and animals. We arrived at Beshmo Lodge, our stop for the night. They had lunch ready for us, after lunch we were shown our room, very basic but at least nice and clean, the bed was hard but comfortable.
We just dropped our bags and left again, driving out through local streets, then through palm groves laden with dates. Off road driving to reach a salt lake (we stopped several times along the way for photos). The landscaper here looked a bit similar to the Dead Sea with the salt on the water’s edge. Then we drove over dunes 4X4 driving to reach Pyramid mountain, which I could have sworn was an actual pyramid from the distance, but up close you could see all the different layers and colours of rocks. We climbed up onto rocks quite high to get a magnificent view of the surrounding area. Our 4X4 looked tiny down at the bottom. Met up with some French tourists. Clambered down again and drove around more dunes to the English mountain, it is called this because it was where the English army had an outpost during WW1 as it was the highest point around. There are still remains of the building on top.
We drove back, arriving back at the hotel about 5, relaxed a bit then had dinner about 6. Dinner was simple but delicious - foul, omelette, tomatoes, cucumbers with oranges for dessert.
When we woke the next day, I was disappointed as the skies were cloudy and I really wanted blue sky in my White Desert photos. After breakfast, we met our young driver Mustafa, packed our gear in the Lancruiser and headed out of Bahariya on the Oasis hwy towards Farafar, arriving at the Black Desert. This landscape was amazing, normal yellow coloured sand with black rocks on top, varying in size from tiny stones to larger rocks and boulders. It reminded me of the landscape of the moon. We stopped at a big mountain and climbed all the way to the top. Quite a scary process as it was so steep and slippery, no ready made stairs for us here. The view from the top was spectacular, so it was worth the climb. Climbing back down was way more difficult, as we kept slipping on the sand and rocks. The weather had cleared up by now so i still managed to get those spectacular photos I'd been hoping for.
Back at our 4WD again, we drove off again, both on and off road, arriving about 11:30 at our lunch stop, an oasis at El Heiz, with a fresh water spring and communal food preparation and eating areas. The area inside where we sat to eat had a channel with spring water running through it and it was nice to sit and dangle our feet in it, quite warm so it was like a foot spa. Mustafa started preparing our lunch while we wandered around outside, then sat inside with our feet in the water. Lunch was plentiful and delicious, I was amazed that our young driver had prepared it all so quickly.
After lunch our next stop was Crystal Mountain, an area with absolutely beautiful crystals everywhere. Picked up a couple of small crystals from the first area we stopped at and I thought they were pretty amazing, but I was blown away when we drove further in, some of the crystals were the size of golf and tennis balls! Our driver then got to show off his driving skills as we 4WD’ed up and down hills, then back out to the highway again, before turning in at Agabat area, the dunes here were just gorgeous. Mustafa drove us up and over a large mountain, and dropped us at the top, we explored a bit, took some photos then walked down to meet him and have tea.
Finally we were driving up a mountain and came to the most spectacular sight, and what I’ve been longing to see for so long – the White Desert, or the New Desert as the locals refer to it. First of all it was just mountains with small bits of white rock on the sand, but the further we drove, we started to see the amazing rock formations this part of the desert is known for. The rocks have been carved into all sorts of shapes by wind and water, you can imagine them as a duck, camel, eagle etc. we drove around looking at these for a while, then pulled up next to the most famous of the formations – the chicken next to a tree. We stopped here along with several other tour groups to watch the sunset, I got some amazing photos of the surrounding formations with the sun setting behind them.
By the time the sun set it was probably about 5:30 and everyone drove off to set up camp for the night and get dinner organised. Mustafa drove around for a while (trying to find the perfect spot?) but he soon stopped and started setting up our camp. First of all the windbreak made with huge blankets/rugs and timber poles attached on one side to the car, then mattresses, table and a fire, even a small tent. He started cooking a pot of soup, vegetables and rice, and chicken on a BBQ plate over the coals. Had a light connected to our car battery and a torch on his mobile that he used as the light slowly disappeared. The meal was certainly worth waiting for, absolutely delicious! We ate together sitting on the mattresses around the low table. Mustafa collected the leftovers and buried them a short distance away from camp, and within about 20-30 mins a small desert fox had appeared, looking for food. It went and dug up our leftovers and took a piece of chicken away. I was able to creep up close to it and get some good photos (bit hit and miss cause I couldn’t see what I was focussing on). Mustafa also cooked us some popcorn and we sat eating that and Sudanese foul (peanuts) around the fire until bedtime.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast, we packed up our camp and drove off. We stopped quite a few times near some of the rock formations for photos – we climbed, sat, jumped etc. We drove away from the White Desert then through more amazing landscapes, rocks, sand dunes. Stopped at a place Mustafa called the Magic Tree, it looks like a wattle tree and had heaps of birds, bees & dragonflies all over it. I think it is called magic because at one stage it has fallen over totally and only 1 or 2 roots are still in the ground, but the tree manages to grow and flower.
We drove again to a tiny oasis with a spring called Ain Khadra. There are so many date palms on a hill and they have used the dead branches, some cut, some still on the trees, to form individual areas like rooms. This was our lunch stop for the day. The spring in the area with the palms wasn't very nice to look at, a dirty hole, but about 100m away it came out again in a couple of levels. We sat for a while with our feet in the water to cool off. We also walked a little further to where there were some caves (or tombs) going quite deep underground where they had found the skeletal remains. Again the lunch Mustafa prepared was excellent – foul, salad, scrambled egg mix, bread. We lazed around in the cool, talked to some other tourists and their drivers, had a nap. Ended up staying about 3 hrs, so it was a lovely break.
Mustafa decided to stay with the French tourists so we followed them when they left, heading into the Northern Desert. We stopped several times to look at amazing rocks on the ground, one area is sulphuric and inside the rocks the metal is so shiny and beautiful. All of the driving was off road, at one stage we crossed the highway but never actually drove on it. Started driving towards some large mountains and drove in through this range. Stopped at a point with a large hole in the rock, we clambered up and explored and found another small dune to climb. After driving a bit more, we passed between several massive white rock mountains and Mustafa stopped to let us out, then he and the other driver drove up a little way to set up camp. We wandered around exploring and taking photos and watching the sun set. By the time we got back Mustafa had set up our camp. What a feast Mustafa prepared for dinner again – fish, tamiyeh, pasta, salad. Way too much food though – the foxes will eat well tonight. We scolded him that he cooks like he would for his family (8 or 9 brothers and sisters) not just 2 of us. After dinner we took our pomegranates and a blanket and went to the other camp, where their driver played a flute like instrument, Mustafa sang and played drums, and the other guy clapped (and made tea). It was a magical setting under the stars, listening to the music.
We said goodbye to our new friends after breakfast, they were continuing south for a few more days to Siwa and Dakhla. We drove on the hwy north to Bahariya (about 130kms) passing Crystal Mountain, entrance to White Desert National Park and the Black Desert. Arriving back at Bahariya, we first visited the Golden Mummies, an absolutely stunning display of about 12 or so, some still in excellent condition, then we visited the tomb of Bannentui (steep steps down, still lots of colour in the wall paintings), said goodbye to Mustafa and met up with Ragab again and drove out to the Temple of Alexander the Great. Some pottery bits and pieces here as well as a sarcophagus.
Our final stop was a hot spring on the outskirts of Bahariya where we had a chance to have a wash and freshen up before being dropped at the bus station for our return trip. Again the journey took over 5 hours, we arrived back in Cairo exhausted and filthy, but we totally loved our time in the White Desert and it’s definitely a place I’d go back to.